A lot of advice on giving a presentation has been floating around since fax machines and uninformed buyers roamed the Earth. Some of these presentation myths are urban legends, and some have simply reached their expiration date. Regardless of their source, these practices are capable of derailing your presentation, damaging your credibility, and causing your audience to tune out.
Like the popular television show Myth Busters, (No, your microwave will not blow up if you microwave a metal bowl!) I set out to “Bust” or “Confirm” some of the more common presentation myths I hear today.
7 Presentation Myths Busted
1. All presentations should follow the 10-20-30 Rule BUSTED
This widely quoted advice from Guy Kawasaki states that no presentation should use more than 10 slides, last longer than 20 minutes or use less than a 30 pt type. In my experience, bad presentations can have three slides or 103 slides. They can be 10 minutes long or an hour. While this “rule” is rooted in selective facts (average attention span of about 20 minutes) it doesn’t take into account that you can actually “reset” that attention span to keep audience engagement high. Good news for presenters with more complex solutions!
Ultimately it is not the number of slides or minutes that determine whether a presentation is good or bad. It’s the quality of those slides (All bullet points? Stock images?), how they’re presented (are you reading them to your audience? Are you interacting with them?) and whether that presentation is structured to align with audience attention spans.
Read more about maintaining attention in your presentation here.
2. Never turn your back on your audience. BUSTED
Of course you don’t want to have your back to your audience for an extended period of time, but a strict adherence to this old wives tale leads to all sorts of unnatural behavior. I’ve seen presenters do weird cha-cha movements across the stage to avoid baring their back. Or conversely, presenters remain tethered to their laptop or podium like a dog on a chain. If your movement is purposeful (i.e., to get somewhere), take the most direct route possible and be sure your back is not to your audience when you’re delivering a key message.
3. The first 2-3 minutes of your presentation are the most important. CONFIRMED
Research and Garr Reynolds, the author of Presentation Zen, agree with me here. People form first impressions very quickly (7-15 seconds!), and those first impressions determine how people listen to you and perceive you. Therefore it’s absolutely critical that you get your opening right. According to The Charisma Myth: ‘CEO’s and HR pros admit they’ll decide whether to hire someone in the first few seconds.” Spending a little extra time on your opening to make sure it truly reflects your message and your prospect’s best interests, has a major impact on the outcome of your presentation.
4. Start your presentation by telling your audience about yourself and your company. BUSTED
If #3 is true then #4 must be false. Talking about yourself is not the highest and best use of those first few minutes. Start with something of interest to your prospect, like an insight into the problem you’re there to solve, or a preview of a potential benefit your solution delivers. Get rid of the company overview. It is highly unlikely that you and your company are a complete mystery to your audience. Studies show that B2B buyers do up to 2/3 of their research before even contacting a company. Don’t use those valuable first few minutes regurgitating what your audience likely already knows!
5. Too much practice will make you appear phony. BUSTED
Of all the presentation myths, this is perhaps the silliest. Presentations are one of the few crafts where practice is given a bad rap. Imagine telling Michael Phelps to spend less time in the pool! Proper practice gives you the skills and the confidence you need to focus on your audience during your presentation. What makes presenters appear phony is not practice, but “poor practice.” If you practice any skill incorrectly you will simply reinforce already ineffective behaviors. Want to ensure your practice correctly and improve dramatically? Practice with an experienced coach.
6. Never read from your slides. BUSTED
Blasphemy, I know! But hear me out: While most of the time you should NOT be reading your slides, there is an important exception to this rule. If your slide has a short (1-2 sentences) quote, statistic or key statement on it, go ahead and read it along with your audience. They’ll be reading it anyway. And this practice keeps you from the temptation to jump ahead and talk about something else while your audience is still reading from the slide.
7. Close with Q&A. BUSTED
When you save Q&A for the end of your presentation you relinquish control of how (and when) your presentation ends. What if you get a question you can’t answer or one that incites negative discussion? Or, what if an audience member keeps the rest of the group hostage with a barrage of questions? Instead of leaving your audience with a strong, closing message that inspires them to move on to the next step, they remember the negative experience.
Take control of your closing and end the party on time with this method.
Don’t let these and other Presentation Myths keep you from getting your message across to your prospects.